After my trip to Koh Chang, I was once again bitten by my addiction to being underwater. With the festive holidays coming up, I hadn’t quite decided what I wanted to do, other than get away. So I looked where I could dive regionally within a “budget” budget that was still on my bucket dive list. The Philippines has been on this list for a while and Manila is a short and cheap three hour budget flight from Bangkok, so this is where I decided to go.
I had heard mixed reports about diving in the Philippines, primarily due to overfishing and over development, but this 7000 plus island nation sits on the Northern edge of the coral triangle, the most nutrient rich and bio-diverse waters in the world, hence its inclusion on my bucket list. Marine biologists are still discovering new species within these waters. I heard from friends consistently good reports about Puerto Galera on the island of Mindoro, so I decided now was the time to check out Puerto Galera for myself.
As it was only few days before a departure, availability of accommodation was limited as it was over Christmas. I managed to find a resort with a dive centre that had availability within my budget. It was called Badladz Adventure Resort, so I packed with an open mind.
My outward journey was pretty easy. The only part I wasn’t quite prepared for was the ferry terminal at Bantagas – where a number of island ferry services leave from. It was Christmas Eve and the place was heaving with people. On the ferry, I saw everything from karaoke machines to boxes of Krispy Kreme donuts, toys and bags laden with Christmas goodies. After an hour or so we landed at Puerto Galera and Badladz was a short walk from the pier – less than 100 metres. After check in, I was shown to my room and this was my beautiful view ….
As I had travelled overnight, my first priority was to have a nap. I had planned to dive that afternoon, but my wake up call didn’t happen, so I missed the boat – literally. Oh well. So Christmas day I was up bright and early chomping at the bit to get underwater. The dive boat headed out to pick up a lovely group of Americans staying in a nearby villa and soon we are at our first dive site.
All divers will know that the one thing you don’t want to happen on a dive is kit failure. Nor do you want double kit failure – on Christmas Day – at the start of your holiday. Well, remarkably, within two dives not one but both of my original mares fin straps snapped. They had lasted me well I suppose – I bought them in 2005 and had done well over 400 dives with these fins and straps. So I spent the rest of Christmas Day looking in Sabang for a dive store open that sold fin straps. Luckily Dive Supply at Asia Divers were open and had non-branded fin straps in stock. Hurrah. Crisis averted!
So back to diving. Over the following four days I dived these sites around Sabang and Puerto Galera:
- West Escarceo
- Sabang Wrecks
- Sinandigan wall
- Coral Cove
- Giant Clams
- Hole in the Wall
- La Laguna
- Manila Channel
- The Canyons
- Sabang Point
Our dive boat was a simple local banca, a traditional Philippino boat…
Most of our dives were easy and fairly shallow, which makes this a great destination for beginner and less experienced divers, as well as macro photographers. Conditions and visibility were variable, mainly because the weather was a bit unsettled as we had some rain and the cloud obviously effected the light. At some sites, the visibility was great – in excess of 15 metres, others it dropped to around 5 metres. Currents were not too bad though. The strongest currents I experienced was at Manila Channel, Giant Clams and The Canyons, but nothing I couldn’t handle and they gave me a good workout. The Canyons was probably the most challenging – deep, with a strong current.
In terms of what there is to see, it is mainly macro, which is what Puerto Galera is most known for. I did notice a distinct lack of reef fish that normally hang out in coral triangle reefs, for example very few groupers, angelfish and surgeon fish. I did however see small schools of various snappers, the odd barramundi, clown and titan trigger fishes and a couple of huge barracuda. There were of course many of my old favourites – anemone (clown) fish and a huge resident hawksbill turtle that hangs out in Sabang Bay.
Overall I was very happy with what I did see. Here is a small selection, within the limits of my failing point and shoot camera…
Critters – Mantis shrimps and Hermit crabs
There were several frog fish in the Sabang bay dive sites. This was my favourite – incredible camouflage…
A beautiful Gurnard tucking into something…
An electric clam – I call these disco clams as that white line is in fact a flashing electric light. I have only seen one other in my years of diving. Fascinating to watch!
Giant clams – this was the biggest and my dive guide Andrew kindly modelled to give you a sense of scale…
Stunning soft coral
Throughout the area, there were also great mounds of abundant and healthy hard coral. One particular crop of potato coral in the Manila channel site was incredible and vast. A good sign of a very healthy and rich ocean.
After my fourth day of diving, I had trouble getting water out of my right ear. At 3am the next morning, I woke to horrible pain in my right ear and I knew I had an infection. Grrrrr. This is a divers second nightmare! I decided the pain was too bad to dive so the next day off diving, hoping fresh air and a bit of a rest would accelerate recovery, as we were still due to dive Verde Island.
As luck would have it, I visited Puerto Galera Yacht Club a couple of day before to sample their trip advisor reviewed BBQ ribs. I discovered they were about to hold a regatta, and anyone that wanted to sail simply needed to turn up at the skippers brief at 9 am each morning. So with my waterlogged ear and pain killers, that’s where I headed. Puerto Galera Part 2 to follow…